Dr. King's Monument in Washington DC

Martin Luther King Jr. and the long walk to freedom.

Earlier this week on January 15, 2019, Martin Luther King Junior would have turned 90 if his life hadn’t been abruptly ended by an assassin on April 4, 1968. In 2019, MLK Jr. day is being observed for the first time by the company I work for and the company is urging employees to engage in a National Day of Service in recognition of MLK’s life and legacy. The company’s acknowledgement for me is both a sign of momentum and anxiety in the comprehensive dialogue about Diversity & Inclusion in America.

As Americans, we are all familiar with MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 from lesson plans thought in many schools around the country. In the true spirit of Dr King’s dream today, we should pledge to practice living the dream and teach our kids the true meaning of loving and judging others not “by the colo[u]r of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The march was organized by the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement: A. Philip Randolph, Whitney M. Young Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Roy Wilkins and John Lewis. Bayard Rustin was chief organizer of the march.

Source CNN: January 21st 2019: https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/march-on-washington-fast-facts/index.html

The coalition for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a collaboration between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), National Urban League (NUL), Negro American Labor Council (NALC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). There were also several religious speakers at the March that day including Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders. The one female speaker was Josephine Baker, who introduced several “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom,” including Rosa Parks.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz was the fifteenth speaker at the March that day and he was heavily involved in the fight for civil rights. Dr Prinz saw the plight of the Negro and other minority groups in the context of his own experience under Hitler. It is my personal belief that it’s more difficult to hate up close and as Americans we should invest time in getting to know someone outsife of our social, class and racial bubble.

Dr King and Dr Prinz

We had the privilege this weekend to attend the Bar Mitzvah for a young man that I have known for several years. Neither one of us knew what to expect but we went into this new experience with eyes wide open.

bar mitz·vah
/ˌbär ˈmitsvə/
Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בַּר מִצְוָה) is a Jewish coming of age ritual for boys. Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew: בַּת מִצְוָה; Ashkenazi pronunciation: Bas Mitzvah) is a Jewish coming of age ritual for girls.

Bar (בַּר) is a Jewish Babylonian Aramaic word meaning “son” (בֵּן), while bat (בַּת) means “daughter” in Hebrew, and mitzvah (מִצְוָה) means “commandment” or “law” (plural: mitzvot). Thus bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah literally translate to “son of commandment” and “daughter of commandment”.

Walking into Temple I couldn’t help but notice that there was a security guard with a gun posted outside. His presence was both reassuring and disheartening because it made me aware that there are people in our society that will target individuals because of their faith. Once inside the Temple, the mood was festive, warm, and inviting. I was impressed by the young man’s poise and courage as he stood in front of his community and expressed his faith.

The Bar Mitzvah service was very welcoming because there was a summary of the rituals and meanings of the various parts of the ceremony in a pamphlet distributed to the congregation. The following words and meaning were new to me, including the Jewish practice of not spelling out the word G-d in its entirety. Some of the key phrases in the pamphlet include:

  • Kippah or yarmulke is a head covering worn as a sign of respect for G-d.
  • Tallit is a prayer shawl worn during the service, reminding us to obey G-d’s commandments. The tzitzit (fringes) contain 613 knots to remind us fo the 613 commandments of the Torah as described in the book of Numbers.
  • Rabbi is the priest that conducts the service.
  • Bimah is the pulpit at which the Rabbi delivers the service.
  • Cantor leads the congregation in the chanting of the prayers during the ceremony.
  • Ark is in front of the Bimah and is where the Torah scrolls are kept.
  • Torah which means “teaching”, is a sacred scroll of parchment containing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Parsha a specific portion of the Torah that is read each week.
  • Aliyah the honour of being called up to the Bimah for a blessing.
  • Kiddush a blessing over wine at the conclusion of service.
  • HaMotzi the blessing over the bread at the conclusion of service.

At the conclusion of the Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Axler reminded the congregation of the importance of service to others on MLK weekend. This was very touching to me because I’ve never heard a religious leader talk about the virtues of Dr King. This is further proof that we are more alike than we are different. There is one race, the human race. There is one religion, the religion of love, there is one G-d, and he is omnipresent.

I leave you with my favourite quote from Dr King.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”


שלום. Shalom. Peace!

Featured Image by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Advertisements

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.